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Feedback in Business Life



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Our learnings in Proakatemia have shown us just how crucial and, ironically, unescapable giving and receiving feedback is. Feedback is a key component of one’s continuous life-long learning, therefore it caught the interest of the authors of this essay to explore feedback and its diverse sides even more. In this essay, we will explain more about feedback from a communication science viewpoint, effectiveness of it, different types and kinds of feedback, generational aspects, as well as the feedback culture in business.   

 

 

Understanding Feedback 

To unravel the vital role of feedback in business life, one must firstly understand what feedback and the process of it is. As the Oxford Dictionary suggests, feedback is “information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement”. Looking at it from a communication science viewpoint, feedback consists of three parts- a sender, message, and a receiver. Once the receiver takes in the message, one usually responds or reacts to it in some way- this is the part of feedback. 

 

It can be positive, meaning that the message has been understood and the parties involved in the interaction are on the same page, as well as negative, though it is not to be understood as “bad” or “unfavourable”. Negative feedback simply indicates that the sender’s message has not been received in a way that syncs up with the listener, signalling that something must be changed in order to connect (Lyon 2021). 

 

Feedback is often mistaken for criticism which focuses on the disapproval of one’s actions, behaviour, etc, and fails to realise the possible further development. It can similarly be also mistaken for evaluation, which is a statement of whether one’s actions were executed well or poorly, stating just the end label of what has been done. Similarly, feedback is not advice or praise, although it still can be all- constructive, reflective, and encouraging. Feedback is the information about where one stands and how they are doing on their way to achieve a goal (Creighton University 2015). 

 

It must include the reasoning for the deliverer’s statements, a closer situational reflection, as well as the impact and one’s possible further action. It gives the chance to reflect on one’s actions to learn and improve by showing the giver’s track of thought and rationale (Henderson 2019).  

 

 

The ways of feedback

 So… why is giving, being open to, and, most importantly, asking for feedback so important? Firstly, feedback is always there. As Paul Watzlawick, an Austrian-American communication theorist and philosopher, once said: “We cannot not communicate.” Weather it is verbal or nonverbal, one can almost always sense the receiver’s response of their interaction. An approving remark, a question, a facial expression- these are all replies to the sender’s message. 

 

However, when talking about effective feedback, it goes deeper than just carelessly signalling a reaction. Feedback is more than just a concept. It can be a “secret weapon” to accelerate one’s development if used wisely and mindfully. It can be a driver for motivation, a key element to improve one’s performance, as well as a tool for a life-long learning (DeFranzo 2015).

 

For it to be the most effective, feedback must be used:

  1.   at a time when it is still relevant, meaning when the situation is still fresh and topical (formative feedback)- this ensures that there is still time to act upon the situation and improve;
  2.   to give constructive criticism to correct a certain behaviour or to provide positive suggestions to gain positive reinforcement- this creates an information flow from which one can base further reflection on;
  3.   in a way which focuses on the action or behaviour rather than the person oneself;
  4.   keeping in mind that while it should be, it might not always be constructive- instead it might rather focus on being productive hence focusing on taking action for improvement;
  5.   in a way that’s most fitting to one’s preference of receiving and giving it, taking the correct setting and attitude.

 

Feedback is not about judging the other, generalising one event for a common example, giving futile comments or being unapproachable to new ideas and viewpoints. Feedback is a form of caring for each other and ensuring that one and one’s community is developing and continuously learning (Creighton University 2015).

 

 

The types of feedback

Described by a 20th century American psychologist and humanist Carl Ransom Rogers, there are 5 types of feedback which vary in their frequency and effectiveness respectively:

  1.   evaluate feedback- this is the most common type of feedback. This involves one checking the other’s credibility by evaluating their input or, most times, behaviour. It focuses on the action rather than the actor;
  2.   interpretive feedback- this type of feedback usually comes in a question form. It requires clarification, and it thrives for a clear communication process by expressing the feedback as a confirmation. This ensures that everyone is on the same wavelength;
  3.   supportive feedback- it focuses on the encouragement as a response to the deliverable. Since the expression of support might mean different things for some, this type of feedback is highly tied to the interpersonal context of parties involved;
  4.   probing feedback- in different words, this type of feedback focuses on getting deeper into details and discussion, which may arise some challenges. The questions and deep interest from others might come off as a rude inquiry about how knowledgeable one is, when in reality this feedback form opens up a new opportunity to interact and clarify together;
  5.   understanding feedback- this type of feedback is based on the human need to be understood and accepted. At times, just as simple as understanding and hearing one another can be enough. In situations where one isn’t really seeking for solutions or answers, the best feedback to nurture ones development can also be a simple presence and true listening.

According to Rogers, feedback might have different focus points, therefore creating these 5 feedback styles which are all an opportunity for growth in their own way (Business Writing For Success 2019).

 

 

The kinds of feedback

There are two basal kinds of feedback- constructive and destructive. Although they might often go hand in hand with each other, there still are some very distinguished differences. 

 

Constructive feedback focuses on sharing suggestions on how one might improve, while encouraging and nourishing the confidence of others’. The main point of constructive feedback is to look at what is going right and building up on it. This method utilises positive encouragement and inspiration to activate for change. Constructive feedback focuses on constructive criticism and positive feedback based on observation, facts, and evidence. It further motivates and evokes creative problem solving, as well as develops interpersonal skills. The giver of constructive feedback practices empathy, being honest but not cruel, basing one’s statements on true events and truly wishes the best for the receiver.

 

Whereas destructive feedback typically focuses on belittling the receiver and focuses on tearing down, rather than building up. It usually lacks practical advice, is too vague, and is not professional in its nature. While experiencing destructive criticism, the receiver might feel threatened, unheard, or attacked. It breaks down one’s confidence and excitement about the ongoing happenings and results in less satisfaction of the experience altogether. It can sound as simple as “your input is a mess” or “you are clueless about everything”, which is rather generalised and does not provide any suggestions on improvement (Dixita 2021).

 

Feedback and different generations

Group of people by the same age is called generations. Generations can be divided into five: silent generation born in the year 1945 of before, boomers born between 1946 and 1964, generation X 1965 and 1976, generation Y as known also as millennials are born between 1977 and 1995 and generation Z as known as centennials 1996 to now. Because of the generations, our living environment has also changed a lot. It means that the norms, values, beliefs, working cultures and expectations have also changed during the years. As well as the feedback culture. (Mc Namara 2022) 

 

According to the research made by Zenger and Folkman (2014), all the generations as y, x and boomers were happy to hear positive feedback, but even more happier to get constructive feedback. All the generations were avoiding giving negative feedback. Based on the research the most open minds for all kinds of feedback were the boomers. (Zenger and Folkman 2014; Jones & Munday 2020.) According to Half (2017) explained it by the differences in communication received. Boomers seem to be more noncommittal and traditional where the X generation prefer a control and command style. The younger generation highlights freedom, collaboration and person based styles since Y generation favor collaborative style and Z generation in person communication. (Half 2017; Jones & Munday 2020.)

 

For all generations feedback is important in the workplaces, but the biggest difference between the ages seems to be hierarchy and roles – the fact who gives feedback for who as well as which is the communication style. (Mc Namara 2022)  Also the personality of the employee, or the feedback receiver, is a very big part of how they get the feedback and what is the most effective way to give it. (Jones & Munday 2020.)

 

 

Feedback in the business life

In business life, everybody needs feedback, but not many want to hear it, certainly not, if it is negative. Feedback can improve skills and working outcomes, if it is given in a good and constructive style. (Hogan 2016) In the business, beforehand stranger people start to work together and aim for the same goal with the company. High performance requires trust and respect as well as quality communication between people. (Murch 2016, 2)

 

Feedback is not only important from the perspective of the individual developing, but also from the perspective of sales, employee’s engagement as well as being part of the company. Ryba (2021) says that the companies, who have stronger feedback culture have more productive and retention employees, which also have positive effects for the sales, communication and the company success. (Ryba 2021)

 

Even though the strong feedback culture has many positive impacts to the company’s economy, employees engagement and overall to the brand, the building process is not always so easy and it requires practice and time. (Ryba 2021) Murch (2016, 3) explains the difficulties in the feedback in the workplaces with the relationship between co-workers. If the relationship is weak it is hard to start a conversation based on the feedback – each part doesn’t want to hear and understand what others have to say. Also, emotions might affect the reason for not giving feedback to others – people react differently to feedback and that might scare us. On the other hand also the consequences of giving feedback, especially negative or constructive, might make it harder. Consequences can be person, relationship or job based and the fair or losing them. (Murch 2016, 3)

 

In business life, employees are waiting for feedback, especially from the leaders or bosses. It is because of the learnt models and the hierarchy cultural background we are used to working in. But based on Zenger and Folkman’s (2014) research the leaders are not comfortable to give or share negative or even constructive feedback. Giving constructive feedback in a professional way is one of the leadership skills which is valuable in the worklife. (Zenger and Folkman 2014)

 

 

How to develop the feedback culture into the company?

Implementing feedback culture to the company is all about practicing and getting the culture to be feedback friendly. Hogan (2016) highlights that the most effective way to start working on the feedback culture in the company is to start to give positive feedback regularly. It is the way to make communicating easily accessible and people get used to it. By starting to give positive feedback makes the transfer to constructive and even negative feedback easier. Building up the culture of giving feedback is good using a technique called OREO. In an OREO technique, start with good and positive feedback about the work or projects they have done, next give something to develop and end the feedback with positive for a more personal and more employee based perspective. (Hogan 2016) 

 

Murch (2016) agrees also with the fact that feedback culture and communication have to learn and practise in the organization. It needs time and the steps are going through the performance management, regular feedback to the feedback flow. Those steps are also important if the organization wants to develop themselves from a low-performance company to a high performance company. (Murch 2016, 1)

 

Feedback is for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are the head of the company or the cleaner of the offices, everybody deserves it and the fact to accept that is important while talking about implementing feedback culture to the company. In the back, in the hierarchy based companies the feedback has used to flow only to the one way: from leaders to the employees. It’s important to start the flow both ways as well as make the culture to accept the feedback. (Hogan 2016)

 

Dialog is one of the main tools of a good feedback session. Feedback should never be given one way, but it should consist of empathy, both side views and questions. Feedback is the point of view of the one who gives it, so by asking questions and giving space to talk about the topics makes the session more safe as well as more receiving. While implementing the feedback to the company, it is important to remember to focus on the way how to give feedback, not only the content of it. Feedback is always from human to human. (Murch 2016, 4-5; M. Phoel 2009) 

 

By creating a feedback culture to the company, it requires finding the right techniques and tools for each work group. The environment has to be safe to give feedback and understanding of different kinds of personalities is important. Beforehand set feedback tool

can help the company employees to give feedback. The tool can be a structured list of the questions about feedback which makes it clear for everybody: how do we give feedback? Who gives and who receives it? And what is the goal of giving feedback? Also the chance to try different styles can help the company to develop the feedback culture. The different channels can be face to face, anonymous platforms, individual or group feedback and personal or task based feedback. (Ryba 2021)


“Feedback is a gift” highlights Ryba (2021) – by understanding the benefits of the feedback and making it as a gift is valuable for the whole company. It is not bullying co-workers or making them feel bad, but it is to develop and see a new point of view. A good feedback culture combines the quality and professional feedback, and a safe environment to respond and the most important point of it is to be able to implement it in the action. (Ryba 2021)

 

 

Conclusion

Feedback giving and receiving offers a valuable opportunity of developing oneself and helping others do so, too. However, it can be noticed how many influencers, such as the types of feedbacks, age difference or even the level of open-mindedness and the culture of one’s team, can be impacting the outcome of this process. Feedback is for everyone, regardless of one’s status or position. However, we all have different approaches to feedback and ways to handle it. Empathy and true listening are key players to sustain the psychological safety to be brave enough to share or take in feedback, therefore keeping business’s culture on check is also important. The authors of this essay hope that the world of feedback has become more clear and perhaps even intriguing, and if you as a reader might have any feedback- we would be more than glad to receive this “gift” and learn about the ways we could improve!

 

 

REFERENCES:

 

Business Writing For Success. 2019. Feedback as an Opportunity. Read on 6.5.2022. Link: https://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/cmchang/chapter/8-3-feedback-as-an-opportunity/

 

Creighton University. 2015. What is feedback? Read on 5.5.2022. Link: https://www.creighton.edu/fileadmin/user/StudentServices/SLIC/LEAD_Center/Feedback_PDF.pdf

 

DeFranzo, Susan. 2015. 5 Reasons Why Feedback is Important. Read on 3.5.2022. Link: https://www.snapsurveys.com/blog/5-reasons-feedback-important/

 

Dixita. 2021. The Primary Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Feedback. Read on 5.5.2022. Link: https://matterapp.com/blog/the-primary-difference-between-constructive-feedback-and-destructive-feedback-is#What-is-constructive-and-destructive-feedback

 

Half, Robert. 2017. Talent Solutions. The Key to Managing a Multigenerational Team: Don’t Overthink It. Read 30.4.2022. Link: https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/the-key-to-managing-a-multigenerational-team-dont-overthink-it 

 

Henderson, M. 2019. Conditions that enable effective feedback. Read on 5.5.2022. Link:https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2019.1657807

 

Hogan, Maren. 2016. 5 Employee Feedback Stats That You Need to See. Read 27.4.2022. Link:https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-strategy/employee-feedback-stats-you-need-to-see 

 

Jones, Crystal., Munday, Jenna. 2020. AEU Lead. How to Deliver Feedback to Employees from Different Generations. Read 1.5.2022. Link: https://www.aeulead.com/main-navigation/insights/article/how-to-deliver-feedback-to-employees-from-different-generations 

 

Lyon, A. 2021. What is Feedback in Communication? YouTube video. Published on 1.5.2022. Referred on 5.5.2022. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srY77hwWn_E

 

  1. Phoel, Cynthia. 2009. Harvard Business Review. Feedback that works. Read 1.5.2022. Link: https://hbr.org/2009/04/feedback-that-works

 

Mc Namara, Carter. 2022. Management library. Understand Generational Differences: Guidelines and Resources. Read 27.4.2022. Link: https://managementhelp.org/interpersonal/understand-generational-differences.htm  

 

Ryba, Kristin. 2021. Quantum Workplace. 10 Tips for Building a Feedback Culture. Read 1.5.2022. Link: https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/10-tips-for-building-a-feedback-culture 

 

Zenger, Jack., Folkman, Joseph. 2014. Harvard Business Review. Your Employees Want the Negative Feedback You Hate to Give.  Read 28.4.2022. Link: https://hbr.org/2014/01/your-employees-want-the-negative-feedback-you-hate-to-give 

 

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